A Tax Increase is a Tax Increase

Last week we heard rumors of a budget "deal" that Don Perata claimed he had with Governor Schwarzenegger. But those rumors dissipated faster than roaches under a flashlight beam when Perata was pressed for details. That was good news for taxpayers because the proposed deal with its massive tax increases was a non-starter for those desperately trying to save the California economy.

The rumored deal involved a "temporary" sales tax increase that would not only be repealed in three years but would actually be reduced until it is "paid back" to the taxpayers.

In case there is an effort to resurrect this proposal we hope that our elected leaders keep in mind a couple of simple concepts. First even a temporary tax increase is still a tax increase. Any legislator who pledged not to raise taxes would be breaking that pledge — irrespective of any characterization that the increase would sunset at some point in the future or that the funds would somehow be "returned" to taxpayers.

Second does anyone think that the same tax-and-spend forces pushing for massive tax hikes now are simply going to roll over in three years and let the sales tax rate revert to what it is now? Or even lower? No one in Sacramento is that stupid or naive. If the Legislature goes along with this rumored deal and imposes an additional one cent sales tax don’t expect it ever to go away. As soon as it is approved the new programs and employees who depend on it will begin their campaign to make the tax permanent.

The French have a saying "There is nothing so permanent as the temporary." When Pete Wilson confronted the budget crises of 1991 he responded with a penny and a quarter tax increase with a half cent to sunset the next year. However as soon as the half cent expired state and local officials found a way to extend it. They figured Californians had become accustomed to the higher tax and could be lured into approving Proposition 172 touted as a way to boost local law enforcement and fire protection. Several wildfires given great publicity by the tax backers allowed Proposition 172 to pass by a narrow margin. We have been paying the extra 1.25 cents ever since.

Any Republican who would consider voting for this is saying three things. First they would be saying "Californians aren’t taxed enough." We doubt voters — especially in Republican districts would agree with this assertion. Second a vote for this proposal is saying "California government — both at the state and local level — is relatively free of waste fraud and abuse and we have cut to the bone." Again voters are likely to respond to this assertion with a barnyard expletive. Finally a Republican vote for this would be saying "My political career is over and I going into the Witness Protection Program."

One final point needs to be made about the partisan nature of the budget impasse. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is a nonpartisan organization with a significant percentage of its members being Democrats. (Note that many are seniors who consider themselves "Reagan Democrats.") But in this budget fight it is an absolute truth that only the Republican legislators are carrying the banner on behalf of the taxpaying public. We are hopeful that some members of the other party will take a firm stand against tax increases. When they do they will have our full support.

Jon Coupal is President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest taxpayer organization — which is dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and promoting taxpayers’ rights.